Pancreatic Cancer Diagnosis

Our expert physicians use several procedures to identify cancerous cells within the pancreas and surrounding tissues and organs. If cancer is identified, these procedures also provide the information needed to determine the extent to which the cancer has spread throughout the abdomen and body. These diagnostic procedures include:

Computerized Tomography (CT) is used to determine whether a pancreatic tumor may be surgically removed, and if there is disease spread. A special X-ray scanning machine is used, along with contrast by mouth and intravenously.

Endoscopic Ultrasound (EUS) is performed using a special endoscope with an ultrasound probe and a small needle at the end. The scope is inserted through the mouth and esophagus and into the first portion of the small intestine. The gastroenterologist performs an ultrasound and may obtain a sample of any tissue that appears abnormal.

Blood Tests: While no good blood test for pancreatic cancer currently exists, some tests may be performed to raise the suspicion of cancer. Tests for pancreatic cancer include carbohydrate antigen 19-9 (CA19-9) and carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA). We use these tests to guide diagnosis and sometimes to monitor disease response to therapy.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) may be used to visualize tumors and their relationships to the biliary tree and vascular structures.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) uses a special type of scanner and a form of radioactive sugar. Cancer cells show up brighter in the pictures because they absorb more sugar than normal cells. PET scans are often used to look for metastatic disease, which is cancer that has spread to distant sites in the body such as bones and lungs.

Biopsy is performed by using a needle under the guidance of some form of imaging such as CT, ultrasound or endoscopic ultrasound. Biopsies are helpful find out whether a tumor is malignant or benign.

Laparoscopy is a surgical procedure performed with a patient under general anesthesia. A small incision is made in order to insert a thin lighted scope and camera into the abdomen to see if cancer has spread inside the abdomen. Biopsies may be taken this way to determine the appropriate course of treatment.

A combination of these tests are used to determine the nature of the tumor, the extent of spread, whether or not the cancerous cells may be surgically removed and whether or not the tumor should be treated with chemotherapy and/or radiation.